I’ve been walking a tight rope strung between two high rise buildings in the middle of New York city. Too much weight on one side and I could’ve slipped, free-falling 72 floors to my premature death. For the last 10 months, I tried meticulously to find balance in my first year as a mom of a school-aged child.
As I reflect on this first year, I’m relieved it’s over and scared out of my pants for what kindergarten will bring. Yes, she just completed PRE-kindergarten. Her curriculum was fast-paced, yet fair. Many outsiders believed the day was only filled with play; however, her teacher had a steady program that did involve play, but mirrored that of full-day kindergarten.
Kindergarten scares me because I haven’t found the right balance of finding the right way to parent a school-aged child. Last August when school began, I wasn't prepared for the journey on which it took me. My maturity grew in ways I didn’t know needed maturing. This year constantly challenged me to find a balance I wasn’t in tune with.
Several days before Spirit Week we were given a flyer announcing what outlandish costumes she had to wear each day. Up first, Monday = Pajama Day. You’d think that would've been the easy one for me, but remembering my own school days, I never wore pajamas on Pajama Day. Back when I was in school you almost had to show that you were too cool for Spirit Week and show your coolness (aka extreme insecurity) by not wearing pajamas. Yeah, that was me. Going against the system when I so desperately just wanted to wear pajamas.
Fast forward to Whitney’s very first Spirit Week ever. Monday Pajama Day. I decided not to put her in pajamas. My school insecurities surfaced in a suffocating cloud and I panicked and put her regular clothes. I didn’t want her to be the only one wearing pajamas. I didn’t want her to feel insecure or the odd-girl out for doing what the “system” asked her to do. Like the goody-toe-shoes who always does as she’s asked. I figured, when in doubt, go with plain ‘ol regular school clothes to “feel out” this Spirit Week thing.
I was wrong.
Everyone and their principal was wearing pajamas.
As we walked up to the school the feeling of Parent Fail washed over me. It’s the same feeling as shame. Whitney looked up at me with those beautiful blue worrisome eyes and said, “Mom, I’m suppose to be wearing pjs today! Why didn’t you put me in pjs?!!” She was reluctant to get lined up for class and I could tell that she was feeling like the odd-girl out – the very thing I didn’t want her to feel. All the other little kids were showing their dinosaur pajama bottoms and Disney Princess tops. It was like the Annual Pre-k Pajama Day Fashion Show and Whitney had no pjs to showoff. For a 5-year-old, that is the worst day of her life. So I went full throttle for the fun day, Crazy Hair Day. But, this day proved worse than Pajama Day and sent me spiraling back into Parent Fail.
For Crazy Hair Day, I went all out. I had been planning this masterpiece in my mind all week. I was going to style her hair like a Who from Whoville, and it was going to be best crazy hair that trumped all Crazy Hair Days. If Pajama Day was like a fashion show, I just knew that Crazy Hair Day was going to be the same.
I was wrong.
Everyone played crazy hair day totally chill like they didn’t want to do what the “system’ asked them to do.
When Whitney got to school, all the kids stared at her in… I don’t know… my hope was amazement, but I don’t think that’s what they were really thinking. When kids walk by with gapping jaws and eyes the size of walnuts, they’re probably not thinking, “Wow! That’s the BEST crazy hair that trumps all Crazy Hair Days!”
I left the school in tears. I began Spirit Week not doing enough, and I ended it doing too much. What’s more, I let my own suppressed school insecurities surface and dictate how I responded as an adult. I was heart broken and sitting in major Parent Fail muck.
As the school year continued, I found it challenging to stay in balance – never overstepping into I’m-the-crazy-mom-and-my-daughter-is-going-to-have-best-fill-in-the-blank mode - nor into I’m-super-lazy-and-don’t-feel-like-doing-anything-for-the-class mom.
In honesty, it's difficult making parenting decisions on my own as a married single parent. My husband was in field training exercises nearly half the school year, leaving me to have school-related dialog with myself. “Should we buy the yearbook?” “Well, she’s going to have class pictures taken soon, and that’s all we really want memories of, anyway, plus, she’s in pre-k. It’s not like she had multiple teachers or was in clubs or anything…” No, I did not buy the yearbook, but I did buy the class picture. A meticulous balance to preserving pre-k memories.
I learned a lot this year about myself, and yet, I wasn’t the one in school. I had to learn to let her go and be a kid. I had to learn to guide her own decision making while teaching her empathy. I learned that I need to go with the flow more often while staying on an organized schedule. Always in balance.
And so, even though I wobbled quite a bit on that tight rope, taking each step cautiously while desperately clinging to the long pole of stability, I made it to the other side. I survived my first year as a school mom. On to kindergarten we go.
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